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Howard Community College is applying the apprenticeship model to software development

The college is working with Elkridge-based NewWave to allow students to gain the software and data engineering experience necessary for jobs. Expanding the tech workforce won't only require skills training.

This editorial article is a part of Workforce Development Month of Technical.ly's editorial calendar.

Howard Community College is launching a software development apprenticeship program that allows students to earn while they learn.

Even as a report on Q3 from Dice suggested nationwide tech hiring is stabilizing in the pandemic, the IT industry has a talent pipeline issue. A tech talent shortage in the United States left 918,000 jobs unfilled in 2019, according to trade group CompTIA. Growing the number of workers with qualifications for those roles is not just a matter of directing more people toward degrees in IT or software development.

“We heard from industries that said higher education was lagging behind, especially in the IT industry,” said Mina Woo, associate vice president of continuing education and workforce development at Howard Community College. “These students who graduate with software and cybersecurity degrees are two to three years behind, because it takes two to three years to develop curriculum at a college level.”

An apprenticeship allows companies to train students to do the job they need done today, in a way that aligns with current industry standards. Applying this approach to technology is considered a non-traditional apprenticeship program in higher education circles, as the model is being applied to something other than a trade school program. Last year, HCC partnered with AT&T on an IT apprenticeship program. Officials deemed it a success, and HCC is now launching the software development program.

The apprenticeship is a two-year program where participants take classes at the college and work as employees, learning the skills necessary to do their job with NewWave, an Elkridge-based company that focuses on IT, business services and data management company.

Apprentices train on three tracks: software development, computer systems engineering and data engineering. Over the course of the program, students complete 3,000 hours of paid, on-the-job training with a mentor from the company and earn at least two technical certifications for Microsoft Azure. Then, they commit to work for two years for NewWave after completing the program.

Along with gaining experience, it also helps ensure that participants continue to earn a living, Woo said.

“It merges all those gaps,” said Woo about the apprenticeship model applied to the tech industry. “It gives the opportunity for students to really get that hands-on experience, while not getting steeped in student loans. Or, if they have a family to support, they can continue to do that. And it allows the industry to have a seat at the table as to how they want these students to be trained.”

Apprentices earn about half the average salary of an IT professional at the start of the program, and get pay raises to the full salary as they gain certifications and move through the program, according to Woo. On average, an IT professional can expect to make $80,000 a year, so an apprentice would start around $40,000, and school would be covered.

Setting up a path for students to earn can help to remove the financial pressures that come with higher education. It can make a career change more viable for folks that live paycheck-to-paycheck, and can’t afford to only focus on school or work an unpaid internship to help gain the two to three years of experience that’s needed for an entry level position.

In turn, HCC officials think this can help to attract students who might not have otherwise considered tech careers.

“A lot of times, some of these students need to work while they’re going to school,” said Woo. “This model allows them to earn while they’re going to school, so that they’re able to make this investment of time.”

Howard Community College will accept applications for the software development apprenticeship from Nov. 9-30. Information sessions will be held Nov. 11 and 19 from 6 to 7 p.m.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Howard Community College
Series: Workforce Development Month 2020

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